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Ed Nobody
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On the Matter of Hennessy

Ed Nobody

 

He was the good employee, he was the best employee. His face dripped with wisdom and his mouth gleamed with goodness and he was good good good good good.

But I saw through his shtick like a greased paper bag. I knew that on the inside of that glittering grin, Tom Kraft was hiding something. Something that would bring all his sycophantic followers to tears when they learned it.

What was it? I didn't know. I was about to find out. I sat in my center-of-room desk with the A/C blowing on my back like a prank or punishment, watching Kraft's desk and listening to that clicking sound all PCs make when they're accessing their hard drive. His was accessing it alright, accessing it good. But Kraft was none the wiser. I had been lucky, or smart: too much to do on a Monday morning to go troubleshoot your machine, even when it does chug like a chain smoker.

His PC was bugged. I'd bugged it. A little Chinese device no bigger than a fingernail plugged into the bare back orifice of Tom Kraft's machine, sucking up his data like a free milkshake. I'd used this method before a couple of times, but never on Mr. Perfect here. It was a risk I had to take.

My center desk allowed me to watch everyone in the front of the room without rousing suspicion; the flip-side of this was that everyone in the back could watch what I was doing. That meant I couldn't monitor the device remotely. I would have to wait until lunchtime, when they cleared out to eat their boring predictable lunches and discuss boring predictable topics. Yes, the only person who could muck this all up was—

"Hullo. Whatcha doin, Hennessy?" Looming over me was Dan pain-in-my-guts Wilkinson, the only member of the office more neurotic than myself. He hunched over me, rubbing his receding forehead and contaminating my atmosphere with the lingering prawn aroma of his morning bag of Skips. I knew he was reading my screen, he must have thought I was up to something. He was wrong: I wasn't up to something, I was onto someone. But I couldn't tell him that.

"I'm just checking emails," I told him.

Dan's eyes, which I did not meet, were bulging like a pair of gobstoppers. His mere presence innervated me so much my fists clenched under the table. "Don't you have that report to write?" I threw at him without subtlety. It struck bullseye: The gears inside his head began to turn louder than Tom Kraft's PC...

"Oh yeah, crap, that." He turned and made to leave, then turned back. My hopes rose and dove and crashed in one graceful movement, like a cold wave on a sharp cliff. "Listen, are you free this evening? There's somethin I need to talk to you about."

"Yeah, yeah. Sure." I would just no-show. Easier than refusing.

"The Newton's Apple? After work."

"Fine."

"Alright." He moved as if to pat me on the shoulder, second guessed himself. Just as well: it was soaked through.

+

Lunchtime. Tom Kraft elegantly stretched before shining his larger-than-life face around the room like a wise old lighthouse. He then left to go eat lunch with his beautiful wife, whom he would surely make time for, and kindly listen to all of her insignificant jabbering, at her favorite restaurant, while they ate her favorite dish, which he would say how much he loved too, no, really, he means it, what do you mean nice, he's just being a good husband...

Dan Wilkinson's mechanical keyboard stopped mid-thunderous-racket and my stomach clenched as his sticky, cloying presence approached—passed me by—busied up the aisle. It was now or never. The two Romanian interns would work through the lunch hour, I knew, but their seats sat in a blind spot from Tom's desk. I could drop something at a surreptitious angle and retrieve the device without detection. Nevertheless, palpitating waves travelled down my numbed body like electric shocks through a dissected frog as I tried to get up. I was filled with a lurching vertigo. It was that certainty that everything was going to end badly, but you had to go forward anyway, to look Death square between the eyes and shake his hand before he led you to rest.

The eyes in the back of my head stopped winking; there was no one left but me and the boys from Bucharest. I had to go now. I had to find out what unspeakable acts Kraft really got up to after hours. Then maybe this terrible anxiety would stop torturing me. I would stop waking up at 1AM to toss and turn for hours, maddening despair nipping at me though the sheets, Fate's hand crawling up my blanket. If I could just prove once and for all things not to be so black and white, set in stone—that the world was wrong to categorize Tom Kraft as a brilliant, magnificent man, and me as a rotten piece of shit...

I stood on crooked knees, my spine's pokey little nubs catching in the damp folds of my shirt. My face felt hot but my lips froze together and my tongue and teeth chattered like ice cubes in a bag. As calmly as possible I grabbed my pen, strolled up the aisle, past the Romanians, who smiled without looking up, past the printer's shimmering green LCD, past the bin where I belonged. I was right to wait for everyone to leave—catching myself in the glass of the door, I saw a quivering, shamefaced man without the slightest semblance of innocence. A filthy, rotten, disgusting excuse of a man. To the right of that nauseating image was Tom's desk; under it, his PC.

I dropped my pen. I ducked.

My heart cried with rapid anguish, the contents of my belly stirred, the matter of mind churned. I did not stop for a breath. Click—the device slipped easily into my trembling, covert hands. But then Creak—the glass door swung open; my heart thumped against my chest as if from the outside—pneumatic, thunderous—I might have stopped breathing right there—stiffening into a blue and hunched corpse, that terrible device a stain in my guilty hand...

It took every ounce of strength to pick myself upright—my face, I caught a glimpse, no longer red, but white as the sheet of a ghost. By some tremendous and concerted effort by the cortisol-drunk cells of my paralyzed body, I turned my head and saw: my boss.

"Going for lunch?" casually asked his kind-old-man face.

I couldn't feel my hand to ascertain it was still held shut, but I willed it to anyway, with vague mental suggestion, as you might wish upon a very distant star.

"Yeah, I was just—"

"Good, good." His face a blank screen; on it I read no sign he had noticed my action. Wouldn't he have said something, if he had? I couldn't be certain.

A dull, pink miasma washed over me then—the anticlimax of my crime. I felt so filthy I could have climbed into the toilet and flushed, if it had been large enough to take me, and if I wasn't claustrophobic. Either way I knew I would end up drowning in my own shit.

+

I had removed the device too soon. The bounty, which I now inspected in secret in the worst sandwich shop in town, was mostly system files: junk, in other words. The dirty pink cloud around me turned murky and purple and cold. Had all been for naught? Perhaps not; I wouldn't be able to directly prove Kraft was embezzling office equipment or stealing clients or hoarding pictures of little boys, but I would be able to dig up clues in his email, whose contents were disjointed, corrupted, but searchable.

In some sudden spark of egotism, the first thing I searched was my own name:

>Hennessy

27 results. Most of it was regular work reports, planning and scheduling. Then I came across this gem:

From: Kraft, Tom

To: Boss

Re: On the Matter of Hennessy

...sdeMT.uA].6‡‹‘F[ discussed the matter with an W'‹5ˆ†Œ{

]h—™meet with him next Monday....–Zd­ to go over our opt‰Jlh;         

٣

 

From: Be?s

To: Kraft, Tom

Re: On the Matter of Hennessy

Can you confirm‰‚”KLwvJ(8 Ե?  Cf<(eYh.sZ†

 

From: Kraft, Tom

To: Boss

Re: ?^ Hennessy

Yes, I'm•U}K& tonight  ƒH<  Lion's Head after work.

Did you want to come along?

 

From: Boss

To: Kraft

Re: On the Mtr of Hennessy

No, I have other business. I leave it in your hands.

+

I tried cleaning the data multiple times, but to no avail. Nor could I find any other emails which even hinted upon what 'matter' they were discussing. There were a few things it could have been—I wasn't exactly squeaky clean myself. My head spun in a constant flurry of loathsome speculation, which made it harder to concentrate on anything, and there were only so many times I visit the bathroom to check through the files on my laptop.

My mind produced no end of possibilities, most of them ending badly for me. But I wouldn't be caught red-cheeked and pantless: I needed to know. It gnawed and gnawed at the damp soil of my deteriorating mind for the rest of the day, and I didn't manage to finish any of my work. But the only thing that mattered then was the matter. The matter of me.

I fled from the office at the first strike of five—no explanations, no look given to anyone. I casually strolled out, darted on a hard left to the fire exit, the corridors twisting and closing on me, the lights dimming, my vision tunneling down bare concrete staircase towards revelation and nightmare.

I was on foot—my car had been repossessed weeks earlier due to a nasty little debt I had only barely managed to repay. At least The Lion's Head wasn't so far. I heaved and spluttered on cold winter air as I ran into town. Tom would put in his extra hour, as always. I had time. I could get in a safe position and observe The Lion's Head from another pub across the road, that one with the outdoor seating.

I ordered a double vodka; its hot punch did little to cease the thrumming of my nerves, the drumming in my head, the percussion of my aching chest. 5:25, I ordered another, which would do equally little. Eyes pinned to the pub across the way, it came out of nowhere, that hand. A hand grabbing my shoulder and sending through my spine the touch of death.

"You got here quickly." The voice and its accompanying ginger hair, square glasses, pudgy shapeless face belonged to Dan Wilkinson. It was only then my choice of hiding place fell upon me like Newton's own fruit. He sat across from me, his fat head occluding the Lion's. I shifted to the right.

"Well?" brusquely. I wished he would disappear. "What is it you wanted to talk about?"

He just sat there and wouldn't speak, looking as miserable as I felt. Part of me resented Dan's very existence—I was supposed to be the office's resident nut. If he took over that role, where did I belong? A potential answer bubbled to the oily surface of my mind, but I shoved its head back under in a kind of black baptism. I smelled sulfur.

If anyone entered The Lion's Head, I would bail on Dan Wilkinson. I needed to calm down: if I stormed over there in this blustering state, I would stand out like a hammered hotdog. My natural lack of presence was my only hope of finding out what was going on—before the matter concluded in a way wholly unfavorably to me.

"Alright Dan, spit it out." I had finished the vodka. I was right; it did nothing. "If this is about your little Christian fling..."

He tensed up all at once, his eyes flaring open. I sensed a bingo. He had picked up some foreign girl at church and been so proud of himself. Apparently all they did together was sit on his bed and not speak. I wasn't sure she even understood English; and the old bean sure as Sunday didn't speak Romanian.

"What about Magda?" he croaked in a hushed voice.

"You tell me." I felt a dark, surging wave crash over the weak scum of my bubbling nausea. For a few seconds, it almost set me right again. Wilkinson's face was the only one I knew how to read: it was written in the language of worry.

"That's not what I wanted to—but yes, things aren't so well with her."

"No shit."

His eyes blinked a few times: astonishment, indignation, eagerness to confess? Something of that variety. A tall man in a blue blazer entered The Lion's Head. Tom Kraft had not been wearing blue. He'd been wearing—er. My mind was failing me when I needed it the most. A casual sporty affair! Grey jacket on yellow polo—annoyingly presentable and comfortable-looking. I could never make myself look anything other than slobbish and ratty, and I felt uncomfortable even in my own bedrobe.

"Do you think she and I might have...issues?" He was still talking about his little blasphemous romance.

"Hell, I don't know Wilkinson. I mean you picked up this girl—what is she, 18, 19? At a church. A Catholic church, no less. You didn't even believe in God until two weeks ago. Can't you do better than prey on innocent theists? And if she really is hardcore Catholic, you might be going to all this trouble for nothing..."

"It's not about sex."

"Yeah sure, it's 'love'. Love between a mid-thirties train wreck and a clueless, desperate foreigner feeling lonely in the shithole middle of England."

"Hennessy, you're being an arse."

"I'm telling it how it is." The vodka was firing up in me now. Or something was. Maybe the despair and impotency that had been congealing in me for decades. But why belittle a man no less desperate than myself? What the hell was I doing, and why had I chosen to do it then?

"You know what, forget it. You've made me quite upset." His face screwed up like a baby's. I couldn't waste time on this: maybe that made me an arse, but one in more urgent need of wiping than Dan Wilkinson's adult tears.

I got up and left without a word.

+

The Lion's Head; may as well have been its den. The hearth roared, hot light flickering over rustic furniture, Turkish rugs, stag heads, coats of arms—a muddled yet traditional flavor. The single table wedged in the corner had a good view of the front door, and stood outside of the main annex. The warmth of the fireplace didn't reach me as I sat there in just my shirt, which together with a dirty grey beanie was the extent of my disguise. As soon as anyone came in, I would hunch over and nurse my drink in a way which hid myself without drawing attention.

I waited a long, tortured while. When Tom Kraft finally entered the pub, I could sense it like a light bulb turned on behind closed eyes. The room drew towards his energy like filings to a magnet. His telltale cologne wafted in his wake like a signature. Only after I knew he had settled did I dare turn my head inside the annex: he sat on plush purple velvet, at the same table as none other than the blue-blazered man—I knew something had been off about him. He gave off the same stench as Kraft.

The music played soft but the patrons yapped like a pack of teahouse grannies after their third cup. This made surveillance difficult. I wasn't able to read lips, nor did I want to risk staring at the pair. I sharpened my ears past the noise and homed in on their voices. A dismal proposition: I could barely follow the train of conversation at a dinner party. Tom Kraft was all smiles as he picked up a dropped coaster for his neighbor, who beamed back at his exalted presence. I still couldn't work out how he did it—some kind of trick, the practiced aura you find in celebrities and cult leaders, people who haven't spent their lives looking into mirrors and shop windows and seeing a turd stare back.

"...What I can tell you is that...."

"...trying to make sense of it all..."

"Well, the...is the ...."

"I know but I feel..."

"...right to come to me."

"I know. But....so what if..."

"....to worry about that now..."

"How.....proceed?"

"...over with now is the...."

"All right."

It was no good. A jumble of words swam in my mind like gone-off alphabet soup. My best bet was to follow Kraft; maybe he'd just go home, maybe he'd go back to the office. If it was the latter, he would write what happened in another email. I could use the bug to—dammit, I just couldn't go home! The thought of spending the next twelve hours milling over the day's events caused me to shiver without restraint.

But how would I follow him? I was on foot. I scrambled out of the pub and hurriedly searched around for a taxi—of course there would be none this part of town, and it would take too long to call one. I stared absently across the road—where the prominent forehead of Dan Wilkinson appeared, portentous as Mt. Fuji on a Japanese painting.

+

"Thought you'd left," he mumbled sulkily, not unhappy to see me. I knew why: the same reason I didn't want to go home.

"Dan...look." My most reasonable tone—attempting to channel some of Tom Kraft's infectious energy—all that came out was vodka-breath. "I don't know anything about you and Magda, don't take it to heart."

"You're probably right anyway. She is young. And so religious..."

"Listen, are you going home soon?"

"Maybe. Why? Did you want to go somewhere?"

"You have your car, right?"

"It's parked around there." He gestured over to the curb, where his red Mini Cooper sat like a fat, jolly chariot. It was a stupid car driven only by bellends, but in that moment I could have kissed its bonnet.

"Alright, listen..."

...

"You have something wrong with you, Hennessy." The Cooper easily swung in and out of lanes and around the tight, torturous roads of the small town. Being in a bright red car wasn't optimal for tailing someone, but it was dark out and the little auto's slick handling had no rival, giving us a stark advantage even against Tom Kraft's Audi cock-mobile as we skidded into the main street of town. I hadn't seen where exactly the blue blazer had gone, but it didn't matter. Something inside me knew if I kept on Kraft's tail, we would reach the truth.

When we zipped past the old fireworks factory, a tingle of familiarity shot up my spine. I had just enough vodka left in me to ignore it. But when we started going up hill—really up hill, like forty-five-degree-angle up hill—not even my drunken stupor could dull the warning bells which began to peal between my ears. We went up and up, and my heart sank and sank, until eventually we passed a little shopping nook with a Co-Op and a Savers and a Cash Converters, all of which I knew, and then turned by a small pub "Isn't that the..." and passed a church and finally slowed down—and turned into a quiet cul-de-sac, which I also knew, and slowed down behind Tom Kraft's car, whose backlights were glowing in that calm, heart-wrenching, affectionate, stomach-clenching, magnanimous, ominous way—inspiring awe, dread, guilt...

The door slammed shut. Behind us, another car slowed. Its door shut too. From the first car emerged Tom Kraft; from the second, the man in blue.

When the knock came upon the Cooper's window, it was not on the driver's side.

"Good evening, Mr. Hennessy. We'd like to talk to you about something..." the blue man said. I looked over at Dan—his eyes were wide, bleary. The same look he'd shown me earlier.

"I'm sorry, Hennessy. I tried to warn you..."

"What is it, Dan? Tell me!" I desperately pleaded, some part of me still trying to get out of it, even though I knew then exactly what had happened, and that I couldn't get out of it, and that I'd stalked Tom Kraft for nothing.

Dan lifted his glasses and drew a finger across his eye. "They know you've been stealing data, Hennessy. That you've been selling it to competitors."

I looked up at the man in blue, and then over at Tom Kraft: he stood in front of the Mini Cooper, giving me a tender yet wistful stare.

Under the warm beam of the headlights, he really did seem to glow.



Ed Nobody is an up-and-coming writer from Ireland who wants to write daring, engaging stories not restricted by traditional genre conventions. He has published several short stories in magazines such as Lovecraftiana, Strange Science Fiction Adventures, Dread Machine, and Altered Reality. He has two novellas under consideration and a novel in the works.


@EdIsNobody on Twitter.

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